Detachment

September, 2022


Tools for Letting Go


“Easier said than done.”


Those are the four words I still mutter to myself when I receive the well-meaning suggestion, “just detach.” Easier said than done.


As the youngest and most sensitive kid in my family of five, I stunk at detachment. No matter the source of stress within the walls of our home, I lacked my father’s amazing ability to at least appear oblivious to the hard stuff. I inherited my mother’s hand-wringing gene, making it difficult to distinguish between what worries were truly mine versus those that weren’t. Sam and Dave’s lyrics sum up the predicament:


When something is wrong with my baby

Something is wrong with me

If I know she is worried

I know I would feel the same misery


If everyone you love is your “baby,” Sam and Dave would predict that you’re going to feel a lot of misery.


Despite all that worried me (sparing you the specifics here), I managed to leave home. Living far from my East Coast family, my late twenties taught me that geographic distance helps you detach but it isn’t a magic pill. It wasn’t until I sat my butt down in multiple Al-Anon 12-step meetings that I began to acquire tools for detachment.


It took some doing to adjust to “the God stuff” inherent in much of Al-Anon’s “liturgy.” For example, the oft-used slogan, “Let Go and Let God.” What god? A foreign concept for someone raised in an agnostic household. The “let go” part simply evoked another “easier said than done” muttering. Who said I wanted to let go of my beloveds? I just wanted to enjoy life more and fret a lot less.


Over time, others’ stories of detachment and letting go provided both instruction and inspiration. Simple yet profound statements such as “what’s mine is mine, what’s his is his” were profoundly illuminating.


And then there were the three C’s:


I didn’t cause it.

I can’t cure it.

I can’t control it.


All Al-Anon really “asked” of me was to save my life, not everyone else’s. That, right there, was an invitation to break the unspoken rules passed down to me from my family. Tall order! What a concept it was to learn it wasn’t my job, nor was it possible, to save anyone else’s life. Embracing that truth brings liberation, and where there’s liberation, there’s often more joy.


Perhaps the best piece of wisdom gleaned from Al-Anon was this: it’s a process not an event. My translation? You don’t ever achieve some hallowed level of detachment and “graduate.” This is a lifelong course that “works if you work it,” as they say.


Al-Anon may not be for everyone. It’s merely one source of support for building the ability to detach. And by the way, detachment doesn’t equal disinterest or indifference. Living and learning into this distinction is just one reason why I see this as a lifelong course. No matter how you seek the elusive skill of letting go, my wish for you is that you do pursue it.


It will always look easy for someone else to detach. You may be tempted to tell that person, “Just let go,” but have you walked a mile in their moccasins? If you’ve already struggled with strengthening the detachment muscle, you know it’s more helpful to hear something like, “I know how hard this is, and I know you can do it. One crawling inch at a time.”


Tools? Anecdotes? Vignettes? Feel free to share, in the comments below, what has helped you detach? What has given you more compassion for others who are not yet able to detach? I bet I’m not the only one who’s all ears . . .



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Prompts For Joy


Click here for a little more about detachment.


Click here for three words of Lennon/McCartney advice.


Click here for all previous Prompts for Joy.


 

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About the Photos


Top: The Eyes Have It. Photo by Martha Clark Scala.


Next: Book cover, Assembling a Life: Claiming the Artist in My Father (and Myself)

Next: Growing in Motion Here. Collage by Martha Clark Scala.


 

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